Stephanie Ashe
August 02, 2015 7:19 am

I spent most of my life in small southern towns.  The smallness of these towns may have varied, but the lifestyle remained the same.  When I was 12, we hit the peak of social isolation when my family moved to the tiniest of towns in the Carolina mountains with a staggering population of about 8,000.  It was an absolutely beautiful place, and I absolutely hated it.  I hated all of the towns, really.  I was rebellious and craved excitement – the kind of excitement I just knew was reserved for big cities.  I enviously watched the ladies of Sex and the City, dreaming of the day I would move to a cool place like that where I would finally feel at home.

Recently, I moved to my first big city. I know Orlando is no LA or NYC, but it was still a big step for me. When I moved I realized there are a lot more differences between small towns and big cities than I could have predicted.  I also realized that my entire being – who I was, how I thought, the way I dressed, how I interacted with others – had all been shaped by my small town life.  I found myself longing for my local coffee shop, quiet walks along the river, and beautiful winding mountain roads (the grass is always greener, right?).  Adjusting to my new life had more than a few awkward moments – here’s what I’ve learned.

Waving at everyone you see will garner some weird looks

Southern hospitality teaches you that no one is a stranger, and everyone must be greeted in a friendly manner.  That usually means waving like an idiot at every car that drives by and giving a smiling “hello” to everyone you pass on the street.  Orlando may be in the south, but that’s not really how things work here.  When I began waving to the citizens of my new city, my greetings were often met with an alarmed look.  I also learned that waving is not the most common hand gesture given to people in cars, and they are likely to confuse your friendliness with something else entirely.

You probably won’t know your neighbors

I always knew the people who lived around me, and I had no problem knocking on their door for a cup of sugar.  But walking around my new apartment complex, I learned that no one really speaks to anyone else.  I try to make small talk with people as they walk their adorable dogs (so jealous!), but they usually just call the dog away from me and move on.

Your ideas of big cities came from TV shows and movies  

When I first told my mom I was moving, she immediately started researching crime rates in the area and convinced herself terrible things would happen to me if I left.  She also watches a lot of dramas and true crime shows, so her perspective is a little skewed.  I have to admit though, that my ideas of big cities were almost entirely based on the media.  It turns out it’s not all that scary, but I did spend a lot of time perfecting my speed walking.  I can now make it through a dark parking garage in record time.  I also figured out which friends didn’t mind being called at 3 am, because I am still not confident enough to walk down the street if I’m not on the phone.  If I go missing, someone needs to know where to start the search party, right?

It’s a lot louder in the city, but you’ll get used to it.

Back home, the only sounds I heard at night were windchimes and the creaking of my old house.  Now, there are loud noises everywhere! Car horns, people talking/laughing/yelling, ambulances, and a number of unknown sounds.  I spent the first few months jumping at every noise, as did my cat, who had also grown accustomed to the quietness of the country.  Now it’s just background noise, and I’m back to full nights of sleep.

Your budget goes out the window…fast.

When did everything get so expensive?  And who even knew there were so many restaurants to choose from?  After years of complaining about how boring everything was, I now live in a place with an infinite number of things to do, and they all cost money. A lot of it. Rent is more expensive too. In college I had a 2 bedroom apartment for $425, and now it’s almost impossible to find a 1 bedroom for less than a grand.  My savings account may be crying for help, but I have a lot of great new experiences under my belt. I had to learn how to prioritize (very quickly), and now it’s not so bad.  I may be sacrificing cable TV, but at least I got to make that last minute road trip to the beach last week.

Driving is a sport – a very aggressive one.

I always thought of driving as a leisurely activity – a nice way to get from point A to point B in a timely manner.   I’ve learned, however, that it is a display of sheer  power, and you must show no weakness.  Honking your horn, aggressively weaving in and out of traffic, vulgar gestures – these are all things you must do to prove your strength.  This took a while for me to warm up to, and the first time the horn honking was directed at me, I had a small panic attack.  Can I just hire a personal driver now?

I may never return to that same small town, but at least I see its merits now.  I’m young, and I have more exploring and messing up to do still.  I’ve navigated the awkwardness of big cities (almost) perfectly, and now I feel like I can tackle anything. Los Angeles, I’ve got my eye on you.

[Image via 20th Century Fox]

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